Sunday, March 10, 2013

Writing About Reading

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Saturday Reunion at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. There were so many wonderful presenters and I left feeling inspired and wishing I could have attended more workshops!

I want to use this post to reflect on a workshop I attended that was presented by Kathy Collins, the amazing author of Growing Readers and Reading for Real. Kathy's workshop was titled "Imagining the Possibilities of Reading Notebooks" and was geared for the grade 2/3 classroom. When I read the program in the morning I thought the topic was so timely because I had recently been thinking about the ways that I ask my second graders to respond or write about their reading.  In fact, I had read a recent post that Deb Frazier had wrote on her blog, Primary Perspectives, regarding her own reflections on using a reading notebook in her 1st grade class.

So here's what I learned and reflected on while Kathy spoke this weekend.

What is the purpose?  How does it help students?  How does it help me?
Kathy asked, "Why are we writing about our reading?" Is it for assessment or data collection? Is writing used to get closer to the text or in preparation of talk? Which are authentic reasons? Which are for the students and which are for us?

Reflections: Why do I do it? I want my students to stop and think about their reading.  I can tell my students that good readers think while they read and I can model through think aloud, but students often need a little help when they start doing this thinking on their own.  Post It notes are a simple and fun tool that help students "capture their thinking" as Kathy says and help me understand them as readers.  It helps them dig deeper and improve critical thinking. When students jot down their thoughts about a book it's helping them get ready to share or talk about their reading. Post Its are a way for my students to hold on to their thoughts and ideas quickly and easily.  Why do I do the other types of writing? You know - responding to a question or prompt about a book or story?  I do that because of the tests my students will start taking in 3rd grade.  But I don't think I need to turn every book we read into an assignment.  I would prefer to create readers and book lovers, and I know I do that by giving my students plenty of time to read books that they choose for themselves.

Just writing those words down helped free me from this nagging voice that kept telling me I needed to do more "assignments" after books are finished.  Note to self:  Kids first, tests last.

Do all writers have a point of entry?
Kathy talked about differentiating 'writing about reading'. Do all students have access to the types of 'writing about reading' you do in your class?

Reflection: I love Post It notes and expect my students to use them.  But I have to admit I have a handful of students that don't use them or use them inappropriately.  You know the kids - they are the ones that are a bit disorganized or inattentive.  With these students I find myself reteaching, remodeling and reminding them OFTEN to use Post It notes.  They often look at me with a blank stare, and mutter the words, "I forgot."  I have been frustrated with this group of students, and I am embarrassed to admit most of my time has been spent trying to get them to do the Post Its instead of thinking that this might not be the right tool for these readers.  Perhaps a big, yet simple graphic organizer would be easier for these students.  As a primary teacher, we also have students that may have strong responses to the text they read, but struggle with the mechanical part of writing.  How can I engage these students and help them respond to their reading in deeper ways?  Providing more choice, like drawing, might be the answer. (And don't forget the student who prefers to use the Post Its to make little airplanes or draw little cartoons.)

When does this writing happen? Kathy says It shouldn't take up too much reading time! And I agree.

Reflection: This has been a worry of mine.  When would I find the time to add something else? And how would I find the time to respond or "check" their work?  Other than all the Post Its we use daily as we read, do I need to make time once a week for writing about our reading?  Kathy calls these appointments for writing about our reading, and she says it needn't be more than 5 minutes at the end of reading workshop. (Hmm.. Takes that long for my kids to find their pencils)

In my mind I sort of divide writing about reading into 2 categories. The first type is the 'jot it down while its fresh in your mind' type. This is where I use Post It notes, but you could also use a graphic organizer or notebook. The second type is the 'after reading response' where readers process their thinking, and put it together to come up with the big ideas. But I realized I hardly give my students enough opportunities for that after the book thinking and talking!  Perhaps I need to do this more often, especially if I expect my second graders to develop critical thinking.

While Post It notes have been helpful to both my students and me, I don't get a chance to read most of them. When I confer they do share them with me, but what happens to the rest of them?  How could I improve the way I use their Post Its and other writing to help me know them as readers?  I realize I also need to build in some type of sharing for their 'writing about reading' and it all doesn't have to be with me.  I think Partner Reading is a good place for this sharing, so I need to explore this idea.

Kathy talked about figuring out which system works best for you. For her, she starts with a uniform approach, then watches to see who struggles or has difficulty with the Post Its.  She then introduces other ways to 'write about reading' as needed.

What can I bring to the mix?  What changes can I make?

I've gotten away from graphic organizers recently, probably because of all those cute and colorful Post It notes.  But I think I need to start bringing them back, keep samples hung up and even give students a chance to choose which one they want to use.  I also think I need to let students sketch about their reading more too.  A couple of years ago I did try using reading notebooks and gave students a list of open ended prompts to get them started.  But I felt it took too much time away from actual reading.

Kathy said we provide mentor texts for other types of writing so we need to do the same for 'writing about reading'.  Why didn't I think of this?  Sure, I modeled how to use Post Its, but if I look at my students' writing about their reading, the quality is often very poor and doesn't go beyond retelling, a prediction or a feeling.  I need to start treating this writing like other types of writing! I need to model and provide visual samples of my Post It thinking and any other writing we do about our reading.

So, where do I go from here? Will I use a reading notebook? I'm not sure yet! I am sure that all my students will have opportunities to write about their reading in a way that works for each individual student. Today's workshop helped me to focus on my purpose and being versatile in the ways my students respond.

Do you use a reading notebook?  What are your thoughts on Writing About Reading?
How about all those Post It notes?  What do you do with all of them?

1 comment:

  1. Debra~
    First I am so happy to read this post! Hearing the questions raised by Kathy Collins followed by your reflections are helpful and familiar! Choice and purpose seem to be a driving force for many of us. Your post reminds me how, when and why we write about reading needs to be a readers choice, they are writing to grow as readers and we all have our own preferences. I am also starting thinking maybe not everyone has a notebook. I can make them available to all just like the other tools in our room, and kids can choose.
    Thanks for taking this conversation deeper and thanks for the shot out!